BHP Billiton South Africa: Standards as a Human Rights tool
The Case Study is based on the premise that if Management Standards are in place, systems, activities and operations will follow and employees will understand their roles and responsibilities. The Case Study examines the Global Compact’s Principle 1 (P1), namely, the measures that BHP Billiton South Africa’s Bayside Aluminium Smelter has taken to support and respect human rights within their sphere of influence and Principle 2 (P2), to ensure that Bayside Aluminium is not complicit in any abuse of human rights. To give effect to P1 and P2, the Case Study considers the Health, Safety, Environment and Community (HSEC) Management Standards as a measuring tool for human rights compliance assessment. The Case Study examines BHP Standards and the human rights fit with activities and operations at Bayside Aluminium.
The concept of human rights has been the product of many debates that have raged over many years throughout the world. The search has been for moral standards or imperatives among states, across borders and between governments and its citizens. A broad consensus has emerged that seeks to frame human rights against a moral code which prescribes certain benefits and treatments simply because people are human, in spite of socio-economic, political and cultural differences. The framework for human rights is set out in the universally politically agreed minimum standards for how people should be treated. These minimum standards are found in the United Nations International Bill of Rights which constitutes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the its two associated Covenants namely, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (1966). The rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its related Covenants, along with the Vienna Declaration (1993) sets out that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The UN International Bill of Human Rights, i.e. UNHR and the two Covenants are listed at the end of the Case Study as Appendix 1.
Within the South African context, the UN International Bill of Human Rights forms the basis for the Bill of Rights which is enshrined in the Constitution. The entrenchment of human rights in the South African Constitution is not only inherent to all people and citizens alike, it is also justiciable. To this end, any complicity in human rights abuses (P2) may be taken up before the courts. The courts in turn could restrain a perpetrator from continuing the violation or could order the perpetrator to act in compliance with the law. Alternatively, offences relating to equality or discrimination may be referred to the National Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal action.
The South African Human Rights Commission, which is also entrenched in the Constitution, acts as a human rights watchdog and serves to promote, protect and ensure the fulfillment of human rights in South Africa as set out in the Bill of Rights. In addition, legislation was passed in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (2000) and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000) to further entrench human rights in South Africa. The Constitution therefore, and the legislation that flows from it are in broad terms binding between state and citizen (vertical application) and between citizens (horizontal application). Similarly, corporate entities (juristic persons) are bound by both the spirit and letter of the Constitution.
The mining industry in South Africa in which BHP Billiton has interests, accounts for slightly more than 8 percent of GDP. This makes the industry a significant roleplayer in terms of economic growth in this country. If industry multiplier effects are added, the contribution to GDP increases to approximately 12 percent. Since transition to legitimate democratic status in 1994 the Chamber of Mines has committed the industry to the development of South Africa. South Africa in turn expects the mining industry to maintain and expand its corporate social responsibility in terms of socio-economic development and upliftment. The challenge to the mining industry to transform the sector is not only to achieve compliance with the Charter for the South African Mining Industry and the Balance Scorecard but also to contribute towards national building by investing in South Africa’s young democracy and the future of its people.
David Wood and Mark in a recent article: “Beyond the triple bottom line” argue that “change in transformation and cooperation by the various sectors in society, including the business community, requires a positive attitude towards recognising the inherent rights (i.e. defined by national and international legislation) and dignity of people”. It is against this background that BHP Billiton seeks “to support the fundamental human rights of employees, contractors and the communities” in which it operates and it is against this background that Principle 1 (P1) and Principle 2 (P2) is discussed in the Case Study.